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Dream Vertical: Morris Wines

The drive from Albury airport into the picturesque town of Rutherglen, with it ancient pubs and assorted landmarks of a bygone era, gives a sense of the history of this wonderful part of the world. 

Originally built in the glory days of the 1850s gold rushes, it was ultimately to be gold of the liquid variety that made North East Victoria one of the great success stories in Australian wine. And this importance remains true today.


One of the legendary winemakers of our industry, and an integral part of the history of the region, is Morris Wines of Rutherglen. Five generations have grown and made some of Australia’s greatest wines, including the uniquely North East Victorian Muscats and Topaques, as well as the Morris flagship red wine, Durif.

Arriving at the Morris winery at Mia Mia, 15 kilometres outside Rutherglen, I am met by fifth generation and current custodian David Morris, whose family have been responsible for making the most consistently outstanding fortifieds in Australia for the last 160 years. 

Walking into the dark cellar with its dirt floors and huge barrels, the temperature is chilly. There’s a mystery and magic to this place which anyone with even the remotest interest in wine would understand. I have a sudden feeling this is going to be, for me, an important and memorable day.

Rich beginnings

In 1859, George Francis Morris purchased 220 acres of prime north-east Victorian land, amongst the first released on the rich Browns Plains. He established his property, Fairfield, and the Morris family went on to make successful forays into grape growing and winemaking, as well as cattle, sheep and grazing.

However, in recent times, perhaps the most important Morris has been the legendary Mick Morris. Although retired, he can still be found in the cellars most days. His contribution to both the family business and the Australian wine industry cannot be over-stated.

Of course, Mick Morris’s greatest wines were his fortifieds – the Muscats, Tokays, Ports and Sherries, as they were then known, were amongst the finest Australian wines. But as these wine styles fell from their glory days in the 1960s, Mick realised there was a trend towards dry reds and he began to focus on making table wines from Durif, Shiraz and then Cinsault. The Durif was particularly unusual, with no other plantings in Australia at that time. But the gamble paid off and the Morris Durif today ranks as one of the best examples of the variety in the country.

Mick’s son David now runs the company, applying a common sense winemaking philosophy. 

“The vineyard and its fruit are critical,” he describes. “The table wines must be fruit driven, with richness and flavour. Oak is important, but for structure, not flavour.” 

For the fortifieds, he tells me, there are a number of key elements including, “Looking after your fruit in the vineyard, having a range of quality wines sitting in old oak, the availability of multi vintages of the base wines to provide all the required components and finally, blending those components to ensure the finest and most complex end product.”

Not many wineries in the world have these ingredients at their disposal, and David uses them to perfection.

altered perceptions

Sitting down with David to a bracket of 20 Durifs spanning from 1985 to the current release 2013, I can’t help but bring preconceived ideas to the table. 

Personally, I have always believed Durif, aka Petite Sirah, to be a turbo charged wine full of overripe fruit and high alcohol that you wouldn’t consume within 20 years of vintage. 

Well, didn’t this tasting completely change my perceptions. Here we had a consistent style of elegant, balanced, fruit driven wines that were a complete pleasure to taste. Even the oldest wine from ’85 was still very alive, displaying attractive earthy chocolate aromas, good acidity and savoury fruit – not bad for nearly 35 years of age!

The Durif plantings go back to 1920 and for decades were used to produce fortified wines. Then Mick Morris produced the first ‘dry red’ Durif in 1954, making him the pioneer of the variety in Australia. 

For me, the elegance, poise, structure and savoury fruit were consistent through the four decades of wines we tasted. As David explained, “We are looking for flavour more than anything in our Durif, flavour will absorb the tannins.” 

There were one or two tannic wines in the bracket, but these represented vintage conditions and were still highly drinkable wines. It was certainly a bracket that had me re-thinking this variety and I’m sure I will be drinking more of these wines in the future.

The Art of Blending

Apart from Durif, the most famous wine from Morris, and indeed Rutherglen, has to be the ubiquitous Muscat, made from Muscat a Petits Grains. 

Muscat is made all over the world, but nowhere else does this variety produce quite the same intensity of flavour and richness as in North East Victoria. The rich soil of Browns Plains and the warm, dry summers provide ideal conditions for ripening the grapes for fortified wines. 

Only a handful of producers have the capacity to make base wine for Muscat and then to blend it to a final product using the laborious ‘solera’ technique. 

Of course, it is the solera, as well as the reserve wines held in oak, that make the amazing Tawnies, Muscats and Topaques at Morris wines. I had the great pleasure of tasting the base wines from 1960, 1986, 2000, 2008, 2014 and 2018 – all direct from their barrels. 

Each of these vintages could be used to blend up one of the several Morris Muscats – the older the base wine, the stronger the richness and flavour. Regarding the older base wines, David recalls his father used to say, “A tablespoon does wonders to 50 gallons.” 

The 1960 was hugely intense and viscous, with aromas of raisins, Christmas cake and marmalade, and on the palate, an explosion of toffee, rancio and spice. 

The Final Act


Vintage Fortified (formerly Port) is a personal favourite of the Morris fortifieds, and they have been producing them for over a century. David did not disappoint, opening wines from 2017, 2015, 2013, 2009, 2002, 1998, 1987 and 1984. 

Vintage Fortified originated in Portugal’s Douro Valley, and sadly, very few Australian winemakers still produce it. But Morris have remained firm, and while it might not be their biggest seller, I realised upon tasting these wines how magnificent they really are. Unlike Tawny, which is matured in wood and will not improve once bottled, Vintage Fortified is bottled as a young wine and it improves with many years in the bottle. 

The Morris Vintage Fortifieds were another revelation – the 1984, made from 100% Cabernet, was quite extraordinary, showing dark chocolate, licorice and spice, lots of primary fruit and great balance and length. This wine could see another 35 years! All the other Vintage Fortifieds were consistent in their quality, although David uses the Cabernet for table wines these days and instead, the classic Portuguese variety Touriga is now used. The current 2007 is a delicious after dinner drink, and offers outstanding value. It is a tragedy that these wines aren’t enjoyed and supported by more Australian wine drinkers.

A strong future


David Morris was handed the keys in 1993 and clearly the wines have maintained the finest quality across the entire portfolio. This is no mean feat when you are overseeing an array of sparkling, fortified and table wines. 

The business has had many ups and downs over the years, including phylloxera, changing consumer tastes and several changes of ownership. It is no doubt a testament to the strength of character of the Morris family that they have endured all these challenges and maintained an outstanding quality of product. David’s son Madden is following his forbears and waiting patiently to one day take over as the sixth generation to control this national treasure. Long may the tradition continue!

Explore our range of Morris Wines here.

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Hunter Semillon - Members tasting
Words by Deb Pearce on 13 Sep 2018
When James Busby and William Kelman planted the first Semillon vines in the Hunter Valley in 1832, no one could have predicted what a stroke of vinous genius that would be. Since then, the Hunter Valley has made Semillon its own, producing a style that is so distinctive Jancis Robinson has called it Australia’s gift to the world. Of course, the Hunter is not the only wine-producing region in the world to produce Semillon wines, but it is rare in its production of a Semillon single variety dry white wine that is revered.  Semillon is grown in other regions of Australia, but its true home is in the Hunter Valley. This is where it creates true wine magic. Its generously fruited, delicately aromatic, waxy textured style, coupled with its amazing ability to age in the bottle, wins the hearts and minds of wine experts globally.  However, despite this, Semillon tends to polarise the wine-drinking public and is sadly under-appreciated. There seems to be a general feeling that Semillon is hard to match with food (unless it’s freshly shucked oysters) and that young Semillon is far too acidic to enjoy more than one glass. Mature Semillon appears to be much more palatable, but at a time when wine consumers seem to like their wines young and fruity to drink now, not everyone wants to wait for a wine to be more approachable.   So, with this in mind, 12 enthusiastic Wine Selectors Members and guests together with wine experts, including senior winemaker at Tyrrell’s Wines, Andrew Spinaze and Selector’s Paul Diamond, got together at Regatta Restaurant in Rose Bay, Sydney, to test these thoughts and see what public opinion actually was of Semillon. It turned out to be a highly interesting day.
Poured and explored Twenty Semillons were on show, ranging in price and reputation, with noted producers alongside rising star winemakers: Brokenwood, Drayton’s, Tyrrell’s, Tulloch, Lindeman’s plus Peppertree, Andrew Thomas, Comyns & Co, Glenguin, Tamburlaine and Usher Tinkler. Of course, to sample Semillon’s ability to age, the line-up included a spellbinding mix of vintages with wines from the current 2018 vintage right through to 2017, 2015, 2013 and even a bracket that included 10+ year-old Semillons: namely the Mistletoe 2007 Reserve Semillon, Drayton’s Reserve Vineyard 2006 and the Gold Medal-laden Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon 2005 – a veritable legend in the Semillon world. Chef Logan Campbell prepared a four-course menu designed to highlight Semillon’s food-matching ability. The courses were: Seared Atlantic scallops, crisp chicken skin, cauliflower puree and saba followed by squid ink gnocchi, grilled bottle squid, edamame and mussels. Then came Cone Bay barramundi, steamed warrigal greens, garlic, lemon and smoked pork jus, with a tasting plate to finish of lemon and lime sorbet, nuts, Le Marquis and Saint Agur cheese. As we took our seats, the first bracket of five 2017 and 2018 Semillons was poured. A wave of excitement and seriousness came over the room as everyone swirled and sniffed with gusto, furiously scribbling notes. Around the room were differing facial expressions from raised eyebrows to wrinkled-up noses and the odd smacking of lips. The first course of seared Atlantic scallops proved young Semillon can be great with foods other than oysters! The 2017 and 2018 Semillons were at their light-weight and lip-smacking best. The citrus fruits were vibrant and the acid line ensured the wine was mouth-watering. The light weight made them a great partner for the delicate nature and gentle sweetness of the scallop, and the creamy cauliflower purée provided the perfect foil for the bright acidity. When asked for comments, Wine Selectors Member Elena Sabag remarked that she was amazed how much the young Semillons benefitted from food. The 2018 Thomas Synergy was the big hit, with and without food. 
Coming of age The second bracket saw some slightly more mature Semillons come out to play, with vintages ranging from 2015 to 2013. This is around the ageing level where Semillon can be a bit closed, or as Paul Diamond put it, “Semillon can go into stasis before moving to its next stage of evolution.” He also talked about this being the developmental stage, which he sees as the “magic of Semillon.” The squid ink gnocchi matched perfectly. The Semillons were still vibrant and very fresh. The trademark acidity giving that mouth-watering finish, and citrus was the dominant fruit. The wines had more fruit weight than the current vintage and one-year-old wines. This enabled them to complement the creaminess of the dish. As bracket three was poured, we saw a definite change of colour in the wines and knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore. The vintages ranged from 2013 to 2011 and proved to be the most popular bracket for drinkability, in particular, with Members Anthony and Jessica Ward saying that they would happily sit around with their mates and drink a bottle of mature Semillon, whereas the young Semillons they felt benefitted more from food.  Another very interesting comment from Jessica was that tasting Semillon in this context made her realise that while the young Semillons all seemed pretty similar, as the wines got older, she became more definite in what she liked and didn’t like. She didn’t expect that kind of difference. The Cone Bay barramundi proved once again the food-friendliness of Semillon. The older wines exhibited the classic citrus characters the variety is known for. They also started to show notes of lanolin, beeswax and lemongrass. The acidity was upbeat, but started to play a more background role to the core of fruit. They had more weight and could handle the stronger flavours of barramundi and pork jus. In describing Semillon and its ageing potential, Andrew Spinaze made an enlightening comment:  “The affordability of Semillon is very underrated. You can pick up a Semillon for $15 per bottle and keep it for 10 years. Wine consumers can pick a wine they like and taste it over a few years. There’s not many varieties you can do that with at that price.” On acidity, he added: “I’d like to think that winemakers these days concentrate more on natural acid wines that are more balanced and approachable that you can drink early or age. You don’t need high acid to age. You need moderate soft acid. Over-adjusted or high acid Semillon will be acidic when the wine is old and probably not in balance.” Furthermore, he felt winemakers sometimes concern themselves too much with the measure of total acidity than the overall fruit, structure and mouthfeel.
Final thoughts The final bracket was poured and here we saw the big guns of Semillon appear, in what proved to be a fitting finale. The 2006 Drayton’s Vineyard Reserve and the 2005 Tyrrell’s Vat 1 were the winners, with people running out of superlatives to describe the complex layers, flavours and balance of these beauties. But the tasting plate proved a polarising match. Both cheeses matched well, with the creamy texture of the Le Marquis in particular combining beautifully with the acidity and complex layers of the wines. However, the sorbet proved to be too zesty and tangy, swamping the wines’ delicate layers. It seems everyone took something away from this experience, with the general consensus being that the least appealing wines of the day were too acidic. The big surprise was that Semillon is more food-friendly than originally thought, especially young examples. Another revelation was that it is not necessarily very mature Semillon that was the big hit with the Wine Selectors Members. Most agreed that they liked their Semillons with fruit and freshness, but also with balance and interest.
Simply Savvy
Words by Mark Hughes on 19 Dec 2016
It is fair to say that Sauvignon Blanc is the most recognisable wine ever, but Australian producers are doing their best to create a host of appealing new identities. We find out who is doing what to make drinkers swipe right. I’ll come right out and say it. I quite like Sauvignon Blanc. That statement will probably earn me the ire of a few wine critics that I know, but I reckon it is a sassy and wondrous wine, and deserving of far more than the limited adulation we give it. I’d be as bold as to say it has been unfairly heaped with harsh criticism. There are a few reasons as to why Sauvignon Blanc is the kid the rest of the class picks on. Firstly, Sauvignon Blanc is seen as a pretty simple wine – it really is a case of WYSIWYG – What You ‘Smell’ Is What You Get and Sauv Blanc has an unmistakable tropical aroma. No matter where it is grown, it will always smell like Sauv Blanc, and this leads to the second reason why it is ridiculed. Because it is so recognisable, it is the first wine that drinkers new to the game can accurately identify. And for the well-heeled wine critic, that is just so ho-hum. Thirdly, it is popular, and we all know Australians hate anything that is popular. It is so well-liked for the two reasons given above. It is appealing for the novice wine drinker, particularly young women, as its simple tropical and punchy profile is not too dissimilar to the flavour of juices and fruit punches we enjoy drinking as teenagers. And it is popular because the novice wine drinker can identify it. Not only does that give them a sense of assurance that the wine experience they are about to have is going to be an enjoyable one, but it also gives them a sense of pride about their burgeoning wine knowledge. And finally, it is because New Zealand has had phenomenal success with the varietal and Aussies just can’t put that Trans Tasman rivalry to bed. It is a wonder we are still playing rugby given the dominance the All Blacks have had over us this millennium, and for the foreseeable future.   ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW Having said all of that, Australian winemakers are a hardy bunch (even more so than the Wallaby scrum) and they have been busy creating a unique identity for Aussie Sauv Blanc that will have a point of difference from Kiwi SB and be just as popular, or even more popular. “I think Australian Sauvignon Blanc tends to be leaner than NZ wines, lower in alcohol with less residual sugar,” says McWilliam’s winemaker Adrian Sparks, whose High Altitude Sauvignon Blanc from the Orange wine region topped our State of Play tasting. “It is a crisper, more refreshing style of wine. This is what we try to achieve, but you want the wine to say where it is from. “I would hate to see wines from Margaret River , Adelaide Hills and Orange all looking the same. Regional differences are important.” Dan Berrigan, winemaker at Berrigan Wines and avid Sauv Blanc lover agrees. “As an Aussie winemaker, I try to understand what makes the NZ Sauv Blanc so popular, and emulate those characters in my wine,” he explains. “I then weave in the regional Mt Benson personality, which is usually in the form of more fruit weight on the palate, and I feel that it’s this combination that drinkers really appreciate, and are drawn to as a point of difference.”   BETTER WITH AGE Shane Harris, chief winemaker at Wines by Geoff Hardy in the Adelaide Hills makes another good point – we have only been growing and making Sauvignon Blanc for the last decade or two. After a slow start, we are growing better fruit and getting better at making good wine out of it. “When the Sauv Blanc train came to town, lots of the industry was fixated on turning the volume up to 11 on the varietal character, but somewhere along the line, the focus on site was lost and replaced with maximising varietal character with picking times and yeast selection based on volume of varietal character more than reflection of site,” says Shane. “More and more Australian winemakers are learning how to get the best out of the fruit sources they have available to them. Sauv Blanc has a great ability to show the site it comes from if you let it.” “I love Australian wine due to the vast differences in climate and styles. We are so fortunate in that fact and more so than any other country,” adds Adrian. “The altitude of Orange is the key, with its warm days and cool nights allowing the grapes to ripen slowly, retaining wonderful acidity and not tending to have full blown tropical fruit, rather a lovely combination of citrus, herbs and exotic notes.”   TINKERING THE TECHNIQUE So what are some of the techniques winemakers are using and what result does it have on the wine? Overall, the answer seems to be to bring Sauv Blanc some complexity. “Winemaking begins in the vineyard,” says Dan. “With the Berrigan Sauvignon Blanc this means managing the canopy to achieve fruit with a balance of tropical and grassy flavours. “In the winery, you then need to extend the skin contact time of the must to ensure that those flavours you’ve worked hard for in the vineyard are extracted from the skins and into the juice. From there, it’s all about minimising the extraction of phenolics, while maximising flavour retention and balance in your wine without oak maturation, lees stirring or fining.” “Oak with the right fruit works very well,” says Adrian conversely. “Lees contact providing texture and depth and some wild fermentation all are providing layers of complexity.” “Sauv Blanc responds to as little to as much winemaking as you wish to give it. Whether that response is appropriate depends on the site and the intended style,” explains Shane. “This doesn’t mean that just because you can do something that you should! A level of restraint is required to bring the subtle characters from your little patch of earth. “For our site I find that some skin contact time, leaving the juice slightly cloudy, and yeast selection are the most important areas of my input. Some post primary fermentation lees contact also helps, but this varies vintage to vintage. “The ability to change and adapt to vintage variation and change your approach is required to get the best out of the variety. Following what you did last year isn’t good enough if you want to get the best out of it this year.”   THE FUTURE While critics predict the popularity of Sauvignon Blanc cannot last, our winemakers seem to believe it will be here for quite some time to come. “The wine style is just so strong in its personality, and with the majority of Australians living in warm, sunny coastal regions, the freshness of Sauvignon Blanc will always have its place amongst our lifestyles,” says Dan. It will always be popular as it’s such an easy drink and suited to Australia’s summer climate,” agrees Adrian. “I hope as an industry we can move with the ebb and flow of consumer preferences and make moves to deliver a style that is relevant and current,” says Shane. “We have to learn to not flog the horse too hard and kill the market and burn the variety, we need to be more sensitive to changes in consumer preferences and move with it, not fight against it. “Keep it fresh, keep it relevant.” Top 20 Sauvignon Blanc 2016 McWilliam’s Wines High Altitude Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Orange) Scotchmans Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Geelong)  Henschke & Co Coralinga Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills)  Berrigan Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Mount Benson)  Taylors Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills)  Blue Pyrenees Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Pyrenees)  Redgate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (Oak Matured) 2014 (Margaret River) Silkwood Wines The Walcott Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Pemberton)  Tamar Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Tamar Valley) Dominique Portet Fontaine Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Yarra Valley) Howard Park Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Margaret River) Alkoomi Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Frankland River) Dandelion Vineyards Wishing Clock Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills) Wangolina Station Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Mount Benson) Geoff Hardy Wines K1 Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Adelaide Hills) Cherubino Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Pemberton) Eden Road Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Canberra District) d’Arenberg The Broken Fishplate Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Adelaide Hills) Lambrook Wines Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Adelaide Hills) Nannup Ridge Firetower Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (Blackwood River)
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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